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Recessing into less bullying, more success

September 21, 2012
Emily Siegmon - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

ALPENA - Lincoln Elementary School is testing out recess centers this year to decrease bullying and increase student success. Principal Pauline Burnham said she started researching outside of the box techniques over the summer and applied them this year to make a difference for children, boost team sports and student self esteem.

"It's been an amazing start to the year. We made a lot of changes and took a risk, but the outcome has been overwhelmingly positive," Burnham said.

Some of the changes that have been made include recess centers, Burnham said at least six center choices are consistently available for students during each recess.

"We always have a kickball, basketball, walking, and playground center, football has also been really consistent too," she said. "I was really motivated to find research based interventions for bullying that would enhance physical fitness and academic achievement."

After Burnham read articles throughout the summer, she decided to make changes to Lincoln's recesses.

"We structure the rest of the day... I saw an opportunity to try something new and we ran with it," she said. " Physical fitness is the number one way to improve academic achievement, the kids love it and it really feeds their brains."

Parents also have the opportunity to be involved in the new recess, by volunteering to lead different centers.

"Right now I personally invite parents who would make great volunteers, however if anyone wants to volunteer they can contact me. It's really a high security process, we do background checks and all volunteers sign in and out, and wear a bright orange vest," she said.

Rich Beegen, football center volunteer, has only volunteered a few times, but plans on doing it as often as he can as long as it does not conflict with his work schedule.

"Recess lasts for about an hour, but it's a really fun time. I take them out and try to teach them to play fair and include everyone," Beegen said.

Lower elementary students, kindergarten through second grade have the first recess of the day while third through fifth graders eat lunch. Then, the rotation switches, but the centers and volunteers remain the same.

"I just started volunteering, but I think it's a really good thing. Kids love it, especially the walking club," Colleen Rude said.

The walking club, one of the centers, is another healthy incentive. Each time a student walks the perimeter of the walking club space they receive a sticker, prizes will be awarded based on the individual's amount of walking.

"It's a responsible choice that gets kids up and moving. Walking isn't just a center or a punishment, it's about learning and moving. When students make poor choices they loose the right to choice a center and participate in the walking club, without receiving stickers, but they watch roles models. The children who did follow the rules and make right choices and have freedom to choose," she said.

Other consistent volunteers include great-grandmother Carol Helinski, and parents Barry Rondeau, Delos Dever, and David Rude also volunteers with his wife Colleen, almost every day.

"I'm here to make sure kids are safe and using the playground equipment the way it's intended to be used, so no one gets hurt," David Rude said.

Dever, leading the football center on Friday, said he typically volunteers once or twice each week for an hour.

"It's a good time out here and you really get to know the kids, for the most part they're really great,"Dever said. "Other than getting kids in trouble for not listening, it's really fun."

According to Burnham, bullying has decreased, and overall there has been less altercations and poor choices made by students. She also said the changes made in recess builds teamwork and sportsmanship, while increasing students self esteem and positive interactions.

"We have had an 80 percent decline in behavioral health referrals, and the attention children are now getting at recess is wonderful and boosting their self esteem. We have a lot of male role models and fathers volunteer every recess, which is our big push, for role models for our young kids," she said. "Any time get parents involved with our students is a success. We embrace parents."

Burnham intends to assess the outcome of the new structured recess and the success of the program. She said the school will continue in the future if it continues to go well, but her overall goal is to share what she has been doing with other schools.

"This is really a good way for students to learn social skills and how to play organized games," Chris Kasuba, school success worker, said. "We've had great results."

Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5687.



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